Have you ever wondered if there is a ‘healthy’ sugar that would get a nod of approval from nutritionists? Before we get to that however, let us first find out more about the table sugar an average household consumes in Singapore.
Back in the mid-20th century, before the proliferation of other artificial sweeteners, table sugar was the predominant sweetener in a person’s daily diet. Sugars in Singapore originate primarily from sugarcane grasses that are crushed in the mill and the juice collected is purified. It is then brought to a boil, producing thick syrup. Eventually, sugar crystals are extracted by centrifuge, leaving behind dark, sticky liquid called molasses.
Common Sugars Compared
- White granulated Sugar. It is refined and contains 99.9% sucrose with all other minerals removed.
- Caster Sugar. It has the same composition as granulated sugar but the crystals are smaller in size. This is purposely created for baking purposes so that the crystals dissolve rapidly.
- Icing Sugar is white sugar ground to fine powder. This is to ensure quick dissolving and smooth icing.
- Raw Sugar is made from cane juice. Like white sugar, it contains 99% sucrose. Yes, it does have a few minerals but are insignificant to provide any health benefits.
- Brown Sugar contains 95% sucrose and 5% molasses. Hence, the molasses provide a light toffee flavour and moistness. However, there is also no great nutritional benefit over white sugar. This also applies to gula melaka, muscovado, demerara, rapadura and black sugars that are often preferred for baking.
- Fructose powder contains the same calories as white sugar but is slightly sweeter. Therefore, it can be used in lesser quantities to achieve the same degree of sweetness. It is often marketed as ‘natural cane sugar-free’. It has a low GI of 15 which is often highlighted in its marketing. However, there are drawbacks and may cause abdominal discomfort in some.
- Glucose powder is a white crystalline powder with a GI of 100 (i.e. the maximum). At 100, glucose is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and stimulates a fast insulin response. Athletes often notice glucose termed as dextrose. It is essentially a marketing strategy; washing off any association with glucose’s bad name. Blood glucose levels are rapidly raised and replenished upon ingestion. Glucose is the simplest form of sugar and is the body’s main source of energy.
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Nutritional Facts for Sugars
One level teaspoon of white sugar contains 16 Calories, 0g protein, 0g fat and 4g of carbohydrate, 4g of sugars, 2g fructose and 2g glucose.
Approximately 310 Calories, 0g protein, 0g fat and 100g of carbohydrate, 100g of sugars, 50g fructose and 50g glucose.
As an athlete
As a trained person, your response to sugar is different than the average untrained individual. Your body can handle sugar better than the body of the less fit, sedentary person. If you enjoy a glass of orange juice, a flavoured yogurt, or an occasional cookie, the sugar is unlikely to send your body into a huge sugar high and crash.
Sugar can even be beneficial during training, such as during long endurance exercise. Sugars in gels and sports drinks are absorbed quickly and help maintain steady blood glucose levels during long runs. Marathon runners can perform better with some type of sugar-fix.
As you exercise, your body makes many positive physiological adaptations, including your body’s response to dietary sugar. Exercise helps your body become more sensitive to insulin, the hormone responsible for bringing sugar (glucose) into your muscles. Thus, you need less insulin to be able to utilise glucose and your body can handle sugar efficiently.
As a trained athlete, you are better able to use sugar throughout the entire day, not just during exercise. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends no more than 10% of your calories come from added sugar. This means that if you are eating a 2,500-Calorie diet, you can have about 250 Calories from sugar per day. This does not include sugars naturally found in food such as fruit or 100% fruit juice. However, remember this does include things like gels and sports drinks. So if you consume 2 gels and 330ml of sports drink on a long run, that counts towards your daily limit.
The Bottom Line
Despite several colours and flavours, the nutritional value of these sugars is very similar. Sugar will still be sugar, regardless if it is white, raw or brown. One teaspoon will give you about 16 Calories.
In fact, they are all sources of sucrose, glucose or fructose. They can also be packaged as a combination. The vitamins, minerals and antioxidants available from sugars are minimal and usually cannot be quantifiably measured.
Dietary guidelines around the world all suggest that we limit our intake of sugar as well as foods with added sugar. However, you do not need to cut out all sugars. Instead, take measures to reduce foods that are correspondingly low in nutrition or easy to overeat. Such examples are cakes, soft drinks and candies.
A better option will be choosing foods with higher nutritional profiles such as flavoured yogurts and milk that give you important nutrients like protein and calcium. Also, use minute amounts of sugar to enhance flavours of nutritious foods. For instance, a thin spread of jam over toast or sprinkle sugar over high-fibre cereal to make it more palatable.
TIP: On a label, “sugars” means the total of what’s natural PLUS what’s added. Look at the ingredients list to see if any forms of sugar are at the top of the list. Sugars can appear as glucose, dextrose, fructose, sucrose, maltose or fruit juice concentrate.’